John Koenig

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Commander John Koenig
Space: 1999 character
Martin Landau as Commander John Koenig
First appearanceBreakaway
Portrayed byMartin Landau
AffiliationMoonbase Alpha
Posting9 September 1999, second tour of duty on Moonbase Alpha[1]
RankBase Commander
Date of birth17 March 1957, Brooklyn, New York, USA[2]
Home planetEarth

John Koenig is a fictional character from the television series Space: 1999. He was played by Martin Landau. He is American, apparently in his early forties.

Character biography[edit]

John Koenig is the ninth[3] and last Commander of Moonbase Alpha. Koenig served as Moonbase's Commander in both seasons of the series, and he is a focal point of most of the episodes in both seasons.

He was orphaned in his teens and had no siblings[4] or other close family. He was a child of the Space Age and fascinated by the American Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and thus set his goal to join NASA and the space programme. He studied astrophysics and engineering at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). At university, he met professor of astrophysics Victor Bergman and the two formed a close friendship.

In the astronaut training programme, he was close friends with fellow cadets Sam and Tessa.[5] One of the significant events of his life came when he was assigned to a resupply mission to the Venus space station. Before docking, the space craft received a computer diagnosis that a disease of unknown origin had broken out on the station. Fourteen men were afflicted and three had died. Koenig's commanding officer made the decision to abandon the facility and its personnel as an unknown disease of alien origin could decimate the human race if brought back to Earth. This event seared into Koenig's psyche that a commander often was called upon to make the hard decisions, sacrificing a few in favor of the greater good.[6] This event also carried personal pain as fellow cadets Sam and Tessa, who were to be married soon, had been deployed in a scout craft to rendezvous with the station ahead of the supply ship. They, too, were left to die with the others. Koenig would carry the guilt of this action with him for years until forced to confront it by the psychic-power-amplifying entity in "The Lambda Factor".

Later, Koenig would marry (a woman whom he would later describe as being remarkably like Helena Russell) and subsequently lose his wife in the global war of 1987.[4] (This would conflict with the Series One Writer's Guide, which stated Koenig had married an artist, who gave her scientist husband an appreciation for the creative arts. Their marriage ended in an unhappy divorce five years later as they grew apart.) Devastated by her loss, he would throw himself into his work and become a leading astronaut in the new World Space Commission. There, he would meet fellow astronaut Tony Cellini[7] and they would both be assigned to Alpha's Reconnaissance Section. This tour of duty would be cut short by the Ultra Probe disaster of 1996 when Koenig was reprimanded by Commissioner Dixon for his short-sighted support of Cellini's obvious fantasies and reassigned to a desk job on Earth.

During his time on Earth, Koenig would become involved with Space Commission navigating officer Diana Morris, a notorious man-eater, but kept the relationship casual. He would later joke that she was his 'childhood sweetheart' or that they had met at the jazz-ballet group at MIT.[8]

Koenig has some training in martial arts. Demonstrating his hand-to-hand skills in such episodes as "The Last Sunset" and his interest in Kendo in the episode "The Testament of Arkadia."

Ultra Probe Mission and reassignment[edit]

Koenig first served on Moonbase Alpha as a senior astronaut in the Reconnaissance Section. He was one of the leading figures of the Ultra Probe mission.[7] When Professor Victor Bergman discovered the planet Ultra in 1994, a long-range spacecraft was constructed to carry a crew of scientists to explore the planet. Koenig worked with Professor Bergman and his friend Tony Cellini on the project; Koenig and Cellini were the two leading candidates to serve as the probe's command pilot. To determine who would fly the probe, Koenig and Cellini tossed a data chip (in lieu of a coin) and Cellini won. After its departure on June 6, 1996, Koenig remained on Moonbase to co-ordinate the mission with the base's computers; he analysed the probe's navigational data and flight telemetry.

The Ultra Probe mission was a disaster; the vessel disappeared from sensor contact after passing behind the planet. Some months later, the probe's lifeboat was found drifting towards Earth with Cellini inside; he was barely alive. The three other crew members had disappeared. When he recovered, Cellini explained that when they arrived at Ultra, they found a graveyard of seemingly abandoned alien ships on the far side of the planet. They docked with one of the ships, and Cellini claimed that a terrifying "monster" had invaded the Ultra Probe and devoured his three crew mates alive; the creature appeared immune to conventional weapons. Cellini had barely escaped by separating the command module from the rest of the ship and using it as a lifeboat to return to Earth. Although Koenig and Professor Bergman believed Cellini, the internal black box aboard the command module failed to provide any evidence of Cellini's 'monster'. The conclusion of the inquiry was that Cellini had accidentally opened the airlock on the Ultra Probe, killed the crew and Cellini had subsequently suffered a mental breakdown. When both Koenig and Professor Bergman made an impassioned plea to Commissioner Dixon, a highly placed official in the World Space Commission, to follow up with another probe to investigate Cellini's story, they were rebuked. Both Koenig and Bergman were grounded for a time, and Cellini was sent to a hospital on Earth for counseling and psychiatric evaluation. Although Cellini's story of a bizarre monster devouring his crew was widely disbelieved, Koenig continued to trust Cellini and believed his story. After being assigned Commander of Moonbase in September 1999, Koenig used his influence to have Cellini reassigned to Alpha's Reconnaissance Section.

Meta Probe crisis[edit]

In 1998, a rogue planet, later named Meta, was discovered passing through the solar system.[9] Regular signals were received from the planet which indicated that intelligent life might exist there. A manned deep-space probe was prepared at the orbital Space Dock and the command pilots, Astronauts Frank Warren and Eric Sparkman, commenced intensive training for the mission. In late August 1999, both men were withdrawn from training because, according to the official cover-story, they had contracted a mild virus infection, which had also affected other Alpha personnel.

Koenig was assigned command of Moonbase Alpha by Lunar Commissioner Gerald Simmonds to get the Meta Probe launched at all costs. After arriving at Moonbase Alpha, Koenig learned that the crisis was much worse than he had been told; the virus infection story was a sham and a total of eleven men had died from an unknown condition. Some slipped into coma and expired; others died after brief, sudden bouts of violent and irrational behavior. Doctor Helena Russell, Alpha's chief medical officer, believed that the sickness was a form of radiation-induced cerebral cancer. All tests of the two nuclear waste disposal area came up negative. However, when Nuclear Disposal Area One - the smaller and older of the two facilities - suddenly flared up and exploded, the staff's investigation came to the conclusion that a new, previously unknown form of magnetic radiation had killed the astronauts. Furthermore, not only was everyone on Moonbase Alpha at risk from the radiation (as Area One had been a landmark for anyone travelling the far side of the Moon to Area Two), but if Area Two was also affected, the colossal amount of nuclear waste stored there would cause the greatest explosion in human history.

Koenig then contacted Commissioner Simmonds, who flew to Alpha on a fact-finding mission when Koenig refused any follow-up communication. Koenig had Moonbase's Eagle fleet equipped with electromagnetic winches to remove the nuclear waste containers from the synthocrete-covered disposal pits and dispersed across a wide area of the Moon's surface; the reduction in the concentrated mass of nuclear waste was hoped to avoid or at least reduce the risk of a catastrophic explosion. Unfortunately, these measures were too late, and in a violent eruption the nuclear waste exploded. The Moon was pushed out of orbit by the rocket motor-like thrust of the explosion and sent speeding from the solar system into the unexplored and unimaginable void of deep space.

Given the Moon's high velocity and rapidly increasing distance from Earth, Koenig made the hard decision to not attempt an evacuation and instead remain on Alpha, where the base's personnel could sustain themselves and search for another planet on which to settle; the search for a "new Earth" would become a dominant theme in the series' two seasons.

Series one[edit]

Shortly after leaving Earth's solar system, the Moon was drawn into a black sun[10] (later known by science as black holes) and emerged in unknown space far across the universe. Traversing space warps[11] and other bizarre phenomena[12] continued to increase the Moon's velocity and allowed it to encounter a number of other solar systems.[13] In many of these systems, the Alphans encountered planets with intelligent life. In many cases, the alien life proved to be hostile or indifferent to the Alphans' plight. As the base commander, Koenig often found himself confronted by baffling and frightening situations which no human had ever faced, and the strain took its toll.

During the first season Koenig was often depicted as somewhat short-tempered, irritable and prone to outbursts at even those closest to him, such as Victor Bergman and Helena Russell. One of the running jokes among many Space: 1999 fans is that Main Mission Controller Paul Morrow, Koenig's second-in-command, was often his "whipping boy" in the first season: Koenig is seen to yell at him or simply assault him in a number of episodes (see "The Last Sunset", "Collision Course", "The Testament of Arkardia"). Morrow remained unflappably loyal to Koenig.

Koenig did display a lighter side to his personality on occasions - in one episode, he was seen enjoying a musical concert by Moonbase personnel,[14] and in another episode he was depicted as finishing a jigsaw puzzle in record time much to his personal satisfaction.[15] In "Dragon's Domain", he presented Helena with a hyacinth that he had cultivated himself with 'a little help from the guys in Hydroponics'.

He occasionally made clear mistakes in judgment - in the episode "War Games", he ordered a preemptive attack on a squadron of apparent Earth warships - an attack which had devastating consequences for Moonbase. In "Matter of Life and Death", he spends most of the episode cautious about the mystery of Terra Nova and Lee Russell, but with time for the Phase Two probe running short, impulsively changes his mind and rushes down to the planet surface against the mounting evidence that danger awaits them and in "Alpha Child" he allowed the five-year-old Jackie Crawford unlimited access to Alpha and its vital systems - but in the end he always seemed to find ways to help the base survive to another day.

Over the course of the first series, he slowly developed a romantic relationship with Helena Russell. There was an unmistakable first-sight attraction in "Breakaway" which developed into an understated romance; they displayed very little public affection, perhaps due to the constant crises and strain everyone faced. He also maintained his close friendship with Victor Bergman and relied on the older man as a sounding board and conscience.

In the episode "Dragon's Domain",[7] Koenig's friend Tony Cellini was able to prove that his story about a deadly monster devouring his crew on the Ultra Probe five years before was true; the Moon encountered the armada of deserted alien spaceships and an examination showed the Ultra Probe docked with an alien ship, just as Cellini had reported. Unfortunately, Cellini was so desperate to prove his story and redeem himself that he commandeered an Eagle and docked with the Ultra Probe, where he attempted to vanquish the monster with an axe (as the monster was immune to laser fire). Koenig followed and was forced to witness the death of his friend. He then retrieved the fallen axe and killed the creature. He and Helena then entered the events into the official record, finally vindicating Cellini.

Series two[edit]

In an effort to make the characters more lively and entertaining, the show's producers deliberately altered Koenig's character in the second series. Although still a forceful, no-nonsense leader, Koenig also displayed a lighter, more humorous side to his personality. He lost the lonely, brooding side of his personality and seemed to make more snap decisions without the input of his advisors.

He was now on a first-name basis with Alpha's senior staff.[16] His relationship with Helena Russell became a full-fledged, physically passionate love affair. On occasion, this was a detriment as aliens would attempt to coerce or influence Koenig by threatening Helena (see "The Exiles", "One Moment of Humanity" and "Brian the Brain" among others).

As the second season was more action-oriented, Koenig also had more chances to display his fighting and combat skills this time around (see "Journey to Where", "The Rules of Luton", "The Dorcons").


  1. ^ Space: 1999 episode "Breakaway"
  2. ^ The Moonbase Alpha Technical Manual
  3. ^ Space: 1999 episode "War Games"
  4. ^ a b Space: 1999 episode "The Rules of Luton"
  5. ^ Space: 1999 episode "The Lambda Factor"
  6. ^ Space: 1999 episode "The Exiles"
  7. ^ a b c Space: 1999 episode "Dragon's Domain"
  8. ^ Space: 1999 episode "The Bringers of Wonder"
  9. ^ "Breakaway". Space: 1999 Year One Episode Guide. The Official Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society. Retrieved 2007-04-25.
  10. ^ Space: 1999 episode "Black Sun"
  11. ^ Space: 1999 episodes "The Metamorph" and "Space Warp"
  12. ^ Space: 1999 episode "Another Time, Another Place"
  13. ^ Fandom has popularised a theory that the magnetic radiation released in "Breakaway" pervaded the Moon's structure and, when not under the influence of a gravitational field, reduces the Moon's inertial mass to near-zero and allows the Moon to travel interstellar distances at near lightspeed. This field then slows it to a 'normal' velocity when in range of the gravity well of a star or planet.
  14. ^ Space: 1999 episode "The Troubled Spirit"
  15. ^ Space: 1999 episode "Space Brain"
  16. ^ Space: 1999 episode "The Metamorph"

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